According to the NHS, there may be as many as 450,000 people who have an addiction to gambling in Great Britain.
The anticipation and thrill of gambling creates a natural high that can become addictive, and with the internet now making gambling more accessible, allowing more and more people to do it from home, there is a higher danger of gambling behaviours getting out of hand and leading to financial, emotional and relationship problems.
There’s often a common link between gambling and other addictions, particularly alcohol abuse. Rates of depression and attempted suicide among gambling addicts are consistently higher than the national average. This is not surprising because people who already feel depressed and empty may try to create a “buzz” by addictive behaviours, but the addiction only causes more problems in the end. Whether you bet on sports, scratch cards, poker, or fruit machines —in a casino or online—problem gambling can strain relationships, interfere with work and lead to severe financial problems. You may even do things you never thought you would, like stealing money to gamble or pay your debts. Gambling addicts are therefore also more likely to go to prison as a result of criminal activity. You may think you can’t stop but, with the right help, you can overcome a gambling problem or addiction and regain control of your life. The first step is recognising and acknowledging the problem. You are not born with it and it is a deep-seated emotional problem that can be overcome.
Understanding gambling addiction and problem gambling
Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling, is a problem that involves an emotional impulse that is hard to resist. . Compulsive gamblers without the right help can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when they know their gambling is hurting themselves or their loved ones. Gambling is all they can think about and all they want to do, no matter what the consequences. Compulsive gamblers keep gambling whether they’re up or down, broke or flush, happy or depressed. Even when they know the odds are against them, even when they can’t afford to lose, people with a gambling addiction can’t “stay off the bet.” Like any addiction, compulsive gambling can be reduced with a range of psychological and therapeutic approaches (including cognitive-behavioural therapy), so feel safe in the knowledge that there IS a way out of gambling addiction, even if you may feel that you have nowhere to turn.
Gamblers can have a problem, however, even without being totally out of control. Problem gambling is any gambling behaviour that interferes with your life. If you’re preoccupied with gambling, spending more and more time and money on it, chasing losses, or gambling despite serious consequences, you have a gambling problem. Problem gambling can be helped in the same way as addictive gambling.
Specialised addiction services that focus mainly on substance misuse will often also help with gambling problems. They use similar approaches to deal with gambling addictions to those that they use with substance misuse.